There was a time when Elon Musk became the darling of liberals, greens and left-wingers alike. Out of nowhere, this young, unsuspect capitalist from South Africa who had sold his online payments company to make a foray into the manufacturing industry was perceived to be heroic. From IT to building rockets and electric cars, the transition of Musk from tech entrepreneur to an industrialist at a time when the manufacturing industry is shunned for much easier businesses, Musk seemed to be risking it all for the greater good. His boldness was welcomed as it came with grand projects to save humanity such as expanding humanity into space by colonising Mars and reducing CO2 emissions by electrifying the car industry. All the rich progressives and environmentalists bought a Tesla: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Greta Thunberg, George Clooney, Stephen Colbert, the Norwegians, and even Leonardo DiCaprio for what it’s worth. All Musk left needed to do was create a weaponised suit and fight crime during the night like Batman, and he would have become a stereotypical character from an American comic.
Yet, he didn’t. Instead, he bought Twitter to play a sinister political game that may very well end up destroying his industrial empire. Suddenly, this capitalist who built factories in good faith entered the political foray by adopting the Trumpian and hard-right Republic Party script. He was even seen with Jared Kushner at World Cup in Qatar so by now, it is no secret that Musk is in contact with the Trump family. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter was initially seen as an impulsive move by an egomaniac who wanted to own the town square out of vanity, but Musk is neither stupid and although his ego surpasses him, he would not have made such a huge purchase just because his feelings were hurt. And hindsight confirms that his overpriced purchase is neither unique by the standards of billionaires.
Owning a media outlet gives a billionaire more political leverage, but owning the town square where media outlets thrive is better than owning just one outlet. By owning Twitter you own the medium of mediums and the funnel through which all the media outlets have to pass. All roads lead to Twitter. Musk doesn’t have a media empire but by owning Twitter his audience reach is surely one of the largest in the world and the political leverage which comes with it is by far more international than owning any media outlet in the world. So, despite overpaying for a failed business, the political leverage that Musk obtained from Twitter’s purchase is priceless. And he made no secret that he bought Twitter because he wanted to play politics. Musk has increasingly become more political on Twitter after having purchased it, and his political talking points are mostly consistent with the Trumpian right, the latest being his criticism over the US Federal Budget spending bill because it doesn’t guarantee the safety of the southern border of the US while paying for the security of Ukraine’s borders. This is a stupid lie with explicit racist overtones. Indeed, border security has actually increased with the budget bill, and this after the US President, Joe Biden convinced Mexico beef up its border security as well, something that Trump never managed to do. Musk may intentionally be promoting Trumpian talking points to reach out to Trump’s audience and not because he genuinely believes in their veracity. Either way, Musk’s pretense to purchase Twitter to “save free speech” shouldn’t be taken seriously. What should be taken seriously is why all of sudden, Musk is aligned with Trumpian foreign policy of appeasing dictators and dismantling the role of the US as the leading guarantor of global security and the international-rules-based order.
There are two reasons why Musk would want to subscribe to Trump’s worldview: either because Musk sees this as an opportunity to expand his industrial businesses in authoritarian states more aggressively with the help of the government’s preferential treatment, or because he genuinely shares Trump’s ideas. Either way, by Musk’s simple logic, his turnover on his Twitter purchase is going to dwarf his $44 billion purchase, that is if the Chinese and others see Musk as the most valuable gateway to the Western information and media industry – and they probably do. Authoritarian regimes are desperate to get their propaganda across to Western audiences especially those regimes whose interests go directly against ours. For example, for years, the Kremlin has mastered its propaganda techniques in an extensive information war against the West and Twitter was one of the platforms to exert this war. Here, we begin to encounter serious problems which reveal very sinister aspects of Musk’s Twitter purchase. Although China and Russia have extensively used their secret services to wage information wars and surveillance campaigns across Western online platforms such as Twitter, in one of the latest rounds of his pseudo-sensational “Twitter files”, Musk outed the federal agencies of the US for using Twitter for their information and surveillance campaigns. Word quickly spread amongst the MAGA crowd that the FBI was on Twitter to try and censor its citizens. Musk seemed to be pleased with this outcome.
And this is how it got all so sinisterly bizarre. How did a South African capitalist end up in the US orchestrating disinformation campaigns against US federal agencies in the name of free speech when it is in fact the secret agencies of authoritarian states that Musk is currently flirting with which are actually on Twitter to censor and prison their citizens? If Musk loves free speech so much I would assume that he would mostly be supportive of the dissidents in China and other authoritarian states who use Twitter to spread their message, only that with his ownership of Twitter, the security of these dissidents on Twitter is now more questionable than ever. In reality, it all adds up and it all makes sense. Musk as a non-American industrialist who made his money in the US sees greater opportunities if he has American information and political tools at his disposal and is not genuinely interested in what is best for the US and its security. If by owning Twitter he can appease the authoritarian elite who will give him permits to build factories and sell his products he doesn’t even need to make money on Twitter.
So, the prospect that Musk is a far-right tycoon who sees nothing immoral in appeasing the Kremlin over its genocidal war in Ukraine, is quite aligned with a business vision that intends to do business irrespective of the political environment. In addition, Musk’s position that doing unregulated business with authoritarian regimes while undermining the work of federal authorities in the US is what you would expect from a far-right hypocrite who does not want any state to regulate him but supports the authoritarianism of other states as long as they do business with him. Similar to how Henry Ford was until the Nazis sequestrated his factories and Ford ended begging for compensation. Indeed, Elon’s flirtation with dictators and his ideas of Russian appeasement in the name of peace is very similar to Henry Ford’s position on Hitler and Nazism during the 1930s and the 1940s. Another similarity between Ford and Musk is their overt racism: while Ford hated Jews, Musk is reported to have allowed rampant racism against black people to go unchecked in his factories, and indeed, some have even been awarded damages for racial discrimination at Tesla.
Yet, Musk’s gamble does not come without risks which include losing it all and going to prison. More imminently, Musk risks losing his core consumer base which has supported him so far. While gaining leverage in authoritarian states, Musk may lose his clients in the US from whom he built his businesses so far. If Musk ends up in a situation where he is overtly dependent on the Chinese consumer, he will soon come ro realise that his leverage via owning Twitter will fade away as that leverage is handed back to the Chinese authorities: a play on leverage can always go in both directions.
Musk is threading on a very fine thread. Julian Assange lost most of his support when he colluded with the Russian secret services to undermine Hilary Clinton’s candidacy for the Presidency. Whistleblowing the abuses of your military and security services may be an honorable thing to do, but collusion with the enemies of the state which seek to undermine the democracy and security of Western society is a treacherous act that should not be taken lightly.